FP: China’s Belt and Road is a “Silk Road with Green Energy”

Guest essay by Eric Worrall

Foreign Policy Magazine fantasising about China rolling out a green energy revolution via its Belt and Road initiative, like it is already happening.

Welcome to the Era of Competitive Climate Statecraft

In trade, finance, development, and security, governments are racing to get closer to net-zero.


2020 wasn’t only the year a pandemic hit the world; it was also the second hottest in history. Regions around the world faced wildfires, droughts, severe weather, and much more. The magnitude of the COVID-19 challenge should have brought nations together to cooperate and coordinate action. However, in many cases, the varying and shambolic responses illustrate the global system’s dysfunction when seeking to respond to a worldwide crisis. Will climate change be a different story?

The U.S. government along with the private sector can unleash and harness an effective ecosystem to support advanced innovation, build employment opportunities in the burgeoning renewable energy and climate space, and further the competitiveness of its high-tech clean energy sector. The challenge is not technological availability—though the deficits remain great, especially in funding new clean energy technology to scale—but gathering the political will and economic support to move forward.

China is not holding out for an improved relationship with the United States; rather, it seeks to advance the state’s role in the economy beyond the control it currently exerts, and it aims to develop strategic technologies. Two terms being used within China’s 14th Five-Year Plan, which spans 2021-2025, are “technological independence” and “indigenous innovation,” suggesting China is looking to challenge dependence on imports to achieve decarbonization while at the same time bolstering its position as a major exporter of advanced clean energy technologies. The Belt and Road Initiative, China’s massive international infrastructure investment project, is another focus, creating a Silk Road with green energy. China is leveraging its already well-tested economic statecraft into competitive climate statecraft, which it can use by manufacturing and selling the green technology the world needs to meet all its net-zero pledges.

Read more: https://foreignpolicy.com/2021/02/08/welcome-to-the-era-of-competitive-climate-statecraft-united-states-china/

Back in the real world, China through their “Belt and Road” project and private banks are financing well over 200 coal projects worldwide.

As for domestic coal, China has not actually stopped mining coal. What they are attempting to do is gasify the coal at source, shifting the pollution away from their big cities

China’s Risky Gamble on Coal Conversion

January 9, 2020 By Richard LiuZhou Yang & Xinzhou Qian

While China is projected to fulfill its Paris commitment to reduce the proportion of coal in its energy mix to below 58% by 2020—a full 10 years ahead of schedule—the country remains the world’s largest producer and consumer of coal. As Chinese policies have curbed coal-fired power out of air pollution and climate concerns, the coal industry and subnational governments have searched for alternative sources of coal demand. Thus, we have seen a slow but steady rise of various coal conversion industries.

China is the only country to implement coal conversion at scale, turning coal into coke, fertilizer, and other chemicals (see Figure 1). Since 1998, China’s central and local governments have alternatively pushed forward and pulled back the development of modern coal conversion industries such as coal-to-oil and coal-to-natural gas. But as of 2017, China’s central government has incorporated coal conversion into national planning, releasing the “13th Five Year Plan for the Demonstration of Coal Processing and Utilization.” This first national strategic document on coal conversion development stipulates that coal conversion must become more environmentally viable.

Read more: https://www.newsecuritybeat.org/2020/01/chinas-risky-gamble-coal-conversion/

The narrative China is presenting to the world is the “coal conversion” projects are not really about energy, they’re about producing chemicals.

Leaving aside the obvious question – what is the market for all those millions of tons of additional chemicals – the reality is China has massive gas shortages. So it seems likely that in the near term at least, a lot of that “converted” coal will end up in their domestic and industrial gas pipelines.

Either way, China is still consuming all the coal they can dig up, and funding hundreds of coal projects in other countries. From the evidence I have seen, the idea that the focus of belt and road is green energy is a total fantasy.

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February 11, 2021 6:15 pm

It’s all about spreading the cheeks.

Reply to  Scissor
February 11, 2021 6:29 pm

Fairy tales you say?

Reply to  gringojay
February 11, 2021 6:47 pm

That’s fantastic and far better than the anal swab I envisioned!

February 11, 2021 6:34 pm

Isn’t converting coal to synthetic natural gas a very energy intensive process, and full cycle SNG CO2 production is much higher than burning coal directly to produce electricity?

Reply to  Eric Worrall
February 11, 2021 6:59 pm

There are many ways to go about it. There are some low pressure gasification technologies that can be used, and as you mention syngas, at least a portion of syngas can be used to make all kinds of useful fuels/chemicals.

It’s also relatively easy to remove sulfur and nitrogen impurities up front and collect CO2 downstream of gasification for enhance oil recovery or other uses besides helping trees and agriculture to thrive in the real world.

The Great Plains Synfuel Plant has been at it for a long time (living and learning).


Last edited 1 year ago by Scissor
Edward Hanley
February 11, 2021 6:50 pm

At least China has common sense. They need fossil fuel and they are mining coal and burning it as fast as they can. Meanwhile they are telling us wonderful stories of what great environmental leaders they are, and Xiao Baiden is actually believing them and in fits of jealousy is destroying the fossil fuel industry in his country as fast as he can. I was in a videoconference with a Chinese citizen in Beijing yesterday, who pointed the camera out the window. The smog was so thick you could barely see across the street.

Reply to  Edward Hanley
February 11, 2021 7:09 pm

“At least China has common sense.”

Never trust commie sense-
Did China just blink on its Aussie coal ban? ASX energy shares in the spotlight (msn.com)

Reply to  Edward Hanley
February 11, 2021 7:29 pm

Biden had a two hour conference call with his boss, Chairman Xi. According to Biden, China is developing a 325 mph train and unless we immediately start dumping billions of dollars into this technology, China is going to eat our lunches

Reply to  MarkW
February 11, 2021 7:47 pm

It would be more accurate to say that China will continue to eat our lunches. fast trains

Reply to  commieBob
February 12, 2021 11:23 am

I’ve been on their fast trains, the whole network built at record speed, like their motorways.

They were designed and sold to them by Germans.
(which is the train design that hit a bridge in Germany when it came undone).

They didn’t want the French TGV which is far safer but more expensive, and they didn’t want world class signalling systems which is why they had a monumental size train crash some years back.

Gotta know what you want in the end.
life is cheap in PRC

Michael S. Kelly
Reply to  pigs_in_space
February 13, 2021 4:11 pm

I took the chunnel train roundtrip from London to Paris back in 1997, on business. Though the train traveled at crawl speeds in the UK due to the horrible state of their tracks, it opened up in the French wide open spaces – 300 kph (186 mph) the whole way. The only time I ever want to go that fast on the ground again is just before leaving it, or just after returning to it, in a jet aircraft. The Eschede derailment would be a commonplace event in the US if we ever went the high-speed rail route, especially in California. I lived in Southern California for 28 years, and had several cars destroyed utterly by their awful, un-maintained roads. A high-speed rail system infrastructure would be “crumbling” upon initial operation, and never get fixed. Their light rail system is carnage on tracks already.

Reply to  MarkW
February 11, 2021 7:54 pm

I would love to hear the actual conversation between the two. The other day Biden regularly stumbled in his speech/thoughts while at the Pentagon. Hard to imagine Biden suddenly becoming clear minded.

Iain Russell
Reply to  goldminor
February 12, 2021 1:47 pm

I’d love to hear/see the interpreter handling Joe’s ramblings!

Reply to  MarkW
February 11, 2021 11:15 pm

I didn’t hear anything about trains in reference to lunches, on the conservative radio I listen to. Just about China eating our lunch in general if we don’t “get on the ball”.

So, obviously the best thing to do would be to cripple our already meager manufacturing bas by forcing them into unreliables. Nothing says “Superpower” like “I wonder if the power will be on today?”

Last edited 1 year ago by Jeff Alberts
Dave Fair
Reply to  MarkW
February 12, 2021 12:08 pm

It would be exciting to travel at 325 mph from Fresno to Bakersfield.

Reply to  Dave Fair
February 12, 2021 2:05 pm

I wonder how many G’s that would take. Both starting and stopping.

Reply to  Edward Hanley
February 11, 2021 7:39 pm

Smog is not from CO2 but from many other compounds (ozone, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, sulphur oxides,  volatile organic compounds, smoke, soot…).  Smog is clearly a health hazard and can be effectively reduced through scrubbers, catalytic converters, filters, low sulfur fuels…  

China can help its society more by reducing smog rather than CO2 emissions.  CO2 is not evil.  It is not poison.  It is plant food and benefits the environment.

Steve Z
Reply to  Edward Hanley
February 12, 2021 9:42 am

Most of the Chinese smog is due to the other emissions from coal-fired power plants, such as particulates (ash and soot) and sulfur dioxide. Coal-fired power plants in the USA are much cleaner than in China due to EPA regulations in effect since the 1970s, requiring baghouses to absorb particulates and scrubbers to neutralize most of the SO2 (> 95% removal). Environ-mental laws in China can be avoided with a large enough bribe to the Party.

February 11, 2021 8:20 pm

China will take huge market shares in EVs, batteries, and solar projects. In Africa and Asia the client countries will get solar projects with Chinese panels and use funds from the U.S. to make the loan payments. Enjoy the unintended consequences of the great green unity era. The UN will cheer all this and take their admin cut and diplomacy fees of course.

Reply to  ResourceGuy
February 11, 2021 8:45 pm

China also builds coal plants in Africa and Asia providing reliable low cost energy to millions of poor people, drastically improving their lives. This is much more beneficial than UN, NGOs, Bill Gates, and other billionaire loonies sponsoring the solar and wind projects providing unreliable expensive energy. Hooray for China, doing something right for a change.

February 11, 2021 8:45 pm

During the 1800s in NYC there were many coal gasification factories. They simply heated the coal to get the gas. Aside from generating gas, they also generated coal tar as a waste product. This black liquid is a hazardous material. Many areas beneath Brooklyn and Manhattan in NYC are still loaded with this substance. It is very difficult to recover. I haven’t heard about China having this problem. Has anyone heard about coal tar in China?

Pat from Kerbob
Reply to  Raphael Ketani
February 11, 2021 8:58 pm

They export it to canada where our prime minister uses it to play dress up in blackface

Richard Page
Reply to  Eric Worrall
February 12, 2021 12:37 am

Red 40 food colour used to be made from coal tar, although it’s more commonly made from oil derivatives these days. Perhaps after Biden has finished gutting the US oil industry that coal tar would be useful again!

Dave Andrews
Reply to  Eric Worrall
February 12, 2021 8:19 am

Used to be able to buy Wright’s coal tar soap in the UK a while back. Not sure if it is still around.

Ben Vorlich
Reply to  Raphael Ketani
February 12, 2021 1:08 am

One of my favourite smells as a child was Wright’s Coal Tar soap. As a small boy it made washing your hands worthwhile

February 11, 2021 10:36 pm

While China is projected to fulfill its Paris commitment to reduce the proportion of coal in its energy mix to below 58% by 2020—a full 10 years ahead of schedule”

Who exactly is confirming this?

Reply to  Jeff Alberts
February 11, 2021 11:55 pm

Mr Xi … it will be whatever he says it is.

Reply to  Jeff Alberts
February 12, 2021 2:55 am

Their planned total coal fired capacity is 1.2TW. They are still building.

That’s 21.8 times the total UK national grid capacity, where coal is now only used to keep the lights on in winter (at 1.42GW as I type). Shows how pointless it is to spend huge amounts of money to reduce CO2 output further.

Chris Hanley
February 11, 2021 10:44 pm

Could this the ‘Silk Road with green energy’ Carolyn is excited about:
comment image
The Haoji Railway, a dedicated line 1,813.5 km (1,127 mi) long solely to transport coal, 200 million tons/year, from Inner Mongolia to souther provinces.

Last edited 1 year ago by Chris Hanley
February 12, 2021 12:12 am

The rigs that are going to cross their new Himalayan highway will run on batteries? Where are the giant charge points connected to wind/ solar en route?

Serge Wright
February 12, 2021 12:28 am

Back in the real world where people have more than 2 brain cells, it’s all too obvious that China is funding fossil fuel energy generation in the developing world, where it plans to make money. The RE products they sell to the developed world are all designed to speed up their economic collapse, making China the controller of the entire globe.

February 12, 2021 1:16 am

“China is leveraging its already well-tested economic statecraft into competitive climate statecraft”

Look out. Economic statecraft == Predatory Lending.
A lot of the “Belt and Road” involves lending to small and poor countries where it is apparent that China will end up owning everything when the loans cannot be properly repaid by the host countries. This, of course, gives China control over all kinds of strategic national assets. They are playing the long game here.

Closer to home:
Traveling the Caribbean, just a little bit off the usual tourist tracks.
I have seen several big billboard signs declaring that this school/hospital/road project is due to the courtesy of the Chinese government. I do not know if these projects were built on loans, or were gifts of foreign aid. (It hardly seems to matter.) The phrase “Winning hearts and minds” comes up from the past. They are in the Caribbean and are expanding their influence.

Reply to  TonyL
February 12, 2021 2:49 am

Not just the Caribbean, they are everywhere and as you say they will end up owning everything when the time comes to repay the “loans”, even if whatever-it-it has broken or worn out.
And wasn’t it the Chinese who built the ring road round Jamaica?

February 12, 2021 1:23 am

I want some of whatever it is that Unicorns eat to produce rainbow coloured farts. It must be available here in Scotland ‘cos the Unicorn is one of the supporters of the Scottish coat of arms.

Paul Kolk
Reply to  Oldseadog
February 12, 2021 2:05 am

I assume that Carolyn’s surname somehow missed the L at the end , as well as the first part of the double-barrelling, it being, of course, Chinese-Kissane……..

Ron Long
February 12, 2021 3:04 am

Good posting of a foolish report, Eric. China is using their belt and road program to further their global ambitions, and useful idiots like Carolyn Kissane want to help them lie, cheat, and steal their way forward. To see how this ends revisit the Tom Clancy book The Bear and the Dragon.

February 12, 2021 3:54 am

Fk me the Chinese have caught up with Portslade in the 1870’s Portslade in the Past: Portslade Gas Works (portsladehistory.blogspot.com)

very old white guy
February 12, 2021 5:50 am

I read today that China has opened new coal fired plants with a huge gigawatt, megawatt whatever, expansion. China is not moving to the insanity of wind and solar period.

Last edited 1 year ago by very old white guy
February 12, 2021 5:53 am

China is a place that is overpopulated – too many people for the size and resources of the country. They do not have a trustworthy food supply – any food eaten in China could make a person sick. The construction works there are often poor quality – dangerous in many cases. The military is very political – Generals are usually owners of some business that supplies the military – promotions based on politics rather than abilities. China is about the CCP – the CCP owns and rules everything – the leadership is fully equivalent to the Nazis – the world should boycott China otherwise it is helping the CCP.

John Bell
February 12, 2021 6:16 am

I lived in China 3 weeks in November 2009, Qingdao, and there was no thermostat in the house like I have in my house in the US, it was communal hot water heat with underground hot water pipes and radiators in the houses, so some mornings it was 55 in the room, with 10 foot ceilings, thank goodness we had electric blankets. We had solar water heaters on the roof for bathing, we could only bathe on sunny days.

Reply to  John Bell
February 12, 2021 7:06 am

Check out ADVChina on Youtube….it is 2 Caucasian guys who lived in China for 10 years and married Chinese wives but had to leave since their freedom beliefs are just not compatible with the CCP.

February 12, 2021 8:02 am

China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is brilliantly nefarious.

3rd World counties run up huge debts to China for Chinese companies to build infrastructure, and when they can’t finance the debt, China takes payment in kind with: mineral & oil rights, 99-year port management contracts, land, tax and regulation waivers, etc.; the true value of which, exceeds the debt owed.

China will eventually take tacit economic control of these countries with laptops, lawyers and bankers…

Western countries usually just forgive 3rd-World debt for nothing in return, and a lot of the money given ends up in Swiss bank accounts and to buy weapons for their armies so the despots can hold on to power…

Steve Z
February 12, 2021 9:35 am

The only thing to travel on China’s Belt Road was COVID-19. This initiative was focused on exporting Chinese technology to Italy, which was the first European country to go on COVID-19 lockdown.

According to Chinese propaganda, they want to sell solar panels to the rest of the world, because China controls most of the rare-earth metals required to make them, so China can corner the market.

But back home, China has lots of coal, but very little oil and gas, so they will burn the only fossil fuel available to them, and not worry about its effect on the climate. Sure, they try to make the west feel guilty about burning oil and natural gas, but oil and especially natural gas emits much less CO2 than coal for the same energy output.

About 10 years ago, I attended a conference on energy policy, and one of the speakers stated that if the USA took the lead in combatting “global warming”, the rest of the world would follow. Really? China has four times the population of the USA and nuclear weapons, and only coal as a fossil fuel. What incentive would China have to follow our “lead”?

Ronald Reagan stated his policy toward the USSR as “Trust but Verify”. Our current policy should also be summed up in three words: “Don’t Trust China”.

Joseph Zorzin
February 12, 2021 11:21 am

“China Reveals its First Assessment of Biden as President”

“China on Friday offered an optimistic – almost rosy – assessment of a call this week between President Xi Jingping and President Joe Biden as the new American leader works to determine how aggressive an approach to take with his country’s principal rival.”

Mickey Reno
February 12, 2021 12:57 pm

Heh heh, those ChiComs are really blowing some fine smoke up the old Biden hole.

Dennis G Sandberg
February 12, 2021 4:50 pm

Nice to see that one county has the brains to develop their domestic resources. They’re doing what the USA should have started doing in 1973 in response to the first “oil shock”. Thirty six coal gasification/coal liquifaction projects were lined up and ready to go in 1978 when the senond “oil shock” arrived. I know I was a representative/lobbyist for two of them. Only one got built: The Dakota Gasification Project that is now primarily a fertilizer manufacturing facility, and began recovering CO2 for enhanced oil recovery about 20 years ago.

These facilities could have saved us a $trillion in oil imports and much more from not requiring a military presence in the Middle East. I know about our military presence in Saudi Arabia, I was there working as an engineer for Saudi Aramco 1991-97.

Wouda, couda,shuda.

Reply to  Dennis G Sandberg
February 13, 2021 6:16 am

Isn’t converting coal to synthetic natural gas a very energy intensive process, and full cycle SNG CO2 production is much higher than burning coal directly to produce electricity?

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